Legitimising Sex Work: The Counter-Arguments to Your Anti Sex Work Position

This is a controversial opinion, especially among second-wave feminists and radfems and even some intersectionally-aware feminists, but I firmly believe in legalising and destigmatising sex work in developed countries. I come from a firm sex-positive standpoint and very much support the Safe, Sane and Consensual Risk-Aware Consensual Kink creed found in the kink community*. This post is written for people who come from a similar viewpoint, but may still feel conflicted about sex work.

As I am not a sex worker myself, I would welcome any corrections to this post.

People who identify as sex workers do a variety of different work, and it’s not just prostitution**. There are people who make pornography, there are people who strip, there are people who you can pay for a bunch of kinky shit, but may not actually involve sex. Sex work is partly legal in Australia, however it will depend on the type of work and laws vary from state to state. Famously, the porn site Abby Winters moved away from my hometown because of strict Australian laws regarding the depiction of real sexual activity – regardless if it’s completely consensual and agreed to under ethical conditions.

Before we begin, let’s get some common objections to sex work out of the way first:

Sex workers are primarily women, and we don’t want women selling their bodies!

If sex workers are “selling their bodies” then so are manual labourers. And athletes. And office workers. In fact, anyone who has a job is “selling their bodies” because everyone is selling what their bodies can do for money. That’s what labour is. In some cases, people are literally selling their minds for jobs that are brain-intensive – like researchers, writers, and basically every creative job ever (which, arguably, can be almost every job).

The truth is that no one can really “sell their bodies” because slavery is universally illegal. To imply that sex workers are “selling their bodies” is in some ways incredibly offensive because in my mind it implies that all sex workers have no personal choice about the jobs they do and the clients they have. It implies that all sex workers have no agency over their own consent.

(Hold that thought. I’ll get to the issue of choice and consent later in the post.)

Sex workers only do it for the money! They’re addicted to money!

Similarly, anyone who has a job can be said to “only do it for the money”.

There’s an odd few who might actually labour in their chosen career paths for free, but that’s definitely the minority. A lot of people hate their jobs. A lot of people are completely indifferent about their jobs. A lot of people would prefer to never work again, if not for the money.

Some of those working people could probably live on significantly less than they’re currently earning – yet they still choose to work more hours in order to afford more. Are they “addicted to money”?

(If your answer is ‘yes’ that’s probably a discussion for another post. But if your answer is ‘yes’ then you’ve also failed to identify why this objection applies moreso to sex work than any other paid work.)

The sex industry is sexist, racist, and caters primarily to straight white men!

So are Hollywood movies. So are books. So is modelling.

Much of this blog has been dedicated to deconstructing problematic media. Media produced by the sex industry is just another problematic thing that you can be a fan of. Sex work and pornography itself, however, is not fundamentally problematic. Current mainstream attitudes are not the be-all and end-all to what pornography can be.

Like all media, there are people who are actively trying to break new ground in representation. There are sex workers who are queer, fat, disabled, etc etc all actively trying to give representation to the spectrum of human sexuality rather than just the straight, white male view. There is even an annual Feminist Porn Award.


First, you should read dana boyd’s article about the model of Choice, Circumstance and Coercion in sex work, because it will cover the same ground, and in more detail. To quote the article:

On one end, you have choice where individuals with a high level of agency and capital (social, economic, cultural) choose to engage in sex work, often because they hold pro-sex attitudes and believe that the world would be a better place if people were more open and honest sexually… On the other end of the spectrum, you have coercion where individuals lack any form agency or capital and are directly or indirectly forced into the trade through manipulation or force. In between, in a category that describes what I suspect is the bulk of commercial sex, is circumstance. Circumstance itself can also be treated as a spectrum. On the end closest to choice, you have individuals who believe that they should have the right to sell any part of their bodies for financial gain… The bulk of circumstance has more to do with challenging economic issues, including poverty or financial desperation. Finally, closest to coercion, there are individuals who are both financially hard off as well as grappling with serious mental health issues, including drug and alcohol addiction, gender dysphoria, a history of abuse, and/or co-dependency.

I want to make clear that it’s not surprising that many sex workers from marginalised backgrounds will operate from the “coercion” or “circumstance” category (although obviously not all). This is because sex work is not an idyllic career that exists outside the framework of privilege, but nothing does so it’s not particularly “special” in that regard.



In my view, the difference between the Circumstance and Coercion categories is primarily one of information. As trite as it sounds, knowledge and information is power. Someone who is faced with homelessness but who can or knows to contact emergency accommodation and support is in a different position from someone who faces homelessness and is not aware of their options, or that there’s even an option to be had. The former makes an informed choice, and their individual agency should be respected because they are in the best position to make the choice for themselves. The latter don’t have a functional choice because they’re not aware of other options.

The former I would categorise in the Circumstance category – those who have chosen sex work from informed consent; and the latter I would place in the Coercion category – those who work in sex work non-consensually. There is some grey area about what constitutes “informed consent” but that’s a discussion that falls outside the boundaries of this post, suffice to add that the question extends to areas outside of sex work as well.

Sex-positivists (and I include myself in this category) are used to thinking about sex and consent in a very straight-forward way. To have sex, you should seek consent in a very active way from your partner/s. To not do so is to run the risk of raping someone.

But why do people consent to sex? People may consent because they’re in a romantic relationship with their partner… but they might just want to get their rocks off. They might also consent for less emotionally healthy reasons, like to get back at an ex, to boost their own self-confidence, to manipulate another person. I’m not saying these are “good” reasons to have sex, but as long as both parties consent, it’s not rape (although it may be other forms of emotional abuse which I’m not going to deal with in this post).

And, except for some very very limited circumstances, the reason why people consent to sex is generally not my business as long as the consent is there. Similarly, the reason why some sex workers give for working in the industry may not fill me with joy and cupcakes, but ultimately it’s not my business why someone else chooses to consent to sex.

Anti-sex work lobbyists will often point to the fact many sex workers in this category will have problems with drug and alcohol addiction, mental illnesses, homelessness, etc and are resorting to sex work because they can’t get money anywhere else. If that’s the case, then it’s clearly NOT sex work that is the problem, but the fact that people don’t have alternative options. If a sex worker said they’d rather be working as a waitress, but that their wages as a waitress did pay them enough to live off, then that’s a problem with the minimum wage or the social welfare system. If they’ve made a decision to do sex work instead of becoming homeless or not having enough to eat, why do anti-sex work lobbyists focus on eradicating sex work instead of rallying for more support to low-income earners?

Lobbyists will often focus on the fact that some sex workers have very few other choices – which may be true – but this rhetoric detracts from individual agency and the conscious choice being made. Someone may personally feel that sex work is the better choice out of two bad options, so the aim should not be to make sex work an equally bad option, but to make the other option better, or increase the number of options that person has access to.



I place trafficked sex workers solely within the Coercion category and their work as non-consensual, ie. rape and sexual assault.

Traffickers will often prey on uneducated women from developing countries, lure them to a developed country with the promise of a jobs as maids and cleaners, and then force them into debt bondage at their destination country. Traffickers will claim that the girls owe them money for the trip, food, accommodation – and when they can’t meet the costs, the traffickers force them to work in brothels as sex workers.

The women have little or no English. They are in a foreign country where the only people they know are literally their captors. They are told by the traffickers that the police won’t help, will arrest them and/or won’t believe them. They are told they’ve signed binding legal contracts when they have not. Sometimes they not only threaten and assault the women themselves, but also threaten their families in their home towns. From the minute they enter the country, the women are entirely reliant on the traffickers.

I want to make a distinction clear: there are foreign sex workers who might come to a developed country in order to pursue career opportunities in sex work. The exchange rate may be quite favourable, or perhaps the destination country has better laws for sex work. Either way, they’re in a very different situation from women who have been trafficked.

Trafficking and forced labour occurs in both legal and non-legal brothels, and the fact that licensed brothels have been complicit in people trafficking has been an argument against legalising sex work. However, what’s less often spoken about is the fact that other kinds of legal, licensed businesses also participate in people trafficking.

Trafficking does not solely occur within the purview of sex work. People trafficking and forced labour occurs in many industries: at restaurants, factories, farms and retail shops. Anti-slavery Australia gives four case studies as an example – only one of which is about sex work.  But no one calls on the government to ban construction work, or fruit-picking, or table service at restaurants. This is because we recognise those jobs to be legitimate in and not fundamentally harmful in themselves. There is no reason why we can’t apply the same reasoning to sex work, which is fine when consensually agreed to, but abhorrent when it is forced upon people.

This should be obvious, but maybe it bears saying: No sex worker I’ve ever met, heard or read has supported people trafficking or forced labour. Every sex worker I’ve encountered is disgusted by the practice. Conflating sex work with people trafficking and forced labour is lazy and intellectually dishonest and if you take that approach, you may as well conflate the hospitality, retail and agriculture with the same.



First, sex work is no different from any other labour that is sold for money, and the sex industry is no more or less problematic than other job industries.

Second, if disadvantaged people choose sex work as their best option when they are faced with a number of bad options, then it is the government and our society that is at fault, not sex work. Money ought to be spent in improving access to mental health services, education system, drug and alcohol programs – not spent trying to dissuade people from choosing sex work. The problem is not that they’re choosing sex work to survive, but that our society cannot provide adequate health, monetary and social support for some of the most disadvantaged people in our community.

Third, people trafficking is not exclusive to sex work. People are trafficked across a number of different industries, but the majority of businesses within those industries operate lawfully and morally.

Consequently, there are a number of things that occur when sex work is criminalised:

If people are in desperate situations, criminalisation may not dissuade people and they may turn to sex work anyway. In the end, it would only result in a criminal record for a lot of marginalised people, and extra administrative costs for the police and the courts. Alternatively, it may mean that people will need to pick “the worse option”, whether that means working three jobs or becoming homeless or something else.

For people being trafficked, those sex workers remain controlled by their traffickers who will have no qualms in directing them to break criminal laws. The fact they’ve committed a crime will be used as additional ammunition against them by their captors.

In the end, all criminalisation would do is curb the choices of those sex workers in the Choice category – the most privileged group with the most opportunities available to them – which also happens to be the category of people who we are the least concerned about engaging in sex work.

If we are really concerned in helping disadvantaged and marginalised people, banning, criminalising or stigmatising sex work is not going to solve anything. Much of the criticism thrown about relates not to sex work per se, but to the system of privilege that affects all aspects of our society, sex work included. The fact of the matter is that most mainstream opinions towards sex work are still firmly couched in anti-feminist, anti-sex rhetoric about women – and the idea that governments should dictate what women can or can’t do with their bodies.


*Edit: With thanks to a friend for pointing out the problematic aspects of using SSC and that the better acronym is now RACK.
**Edit 2: Please note that “prostitution” and “prostitute” are generally not accepted terms to apply to sex work and workers. I have used this term in the absence of anything else that describes exactly what I want to convey, but please note that the preferred words are always “sex work” and “sex worker”.

28 thoughts on “Legitimising Sex Work: The Counter-Arguments to Your Anti Sex Work Position”

  1. I feel there may be one issue that is not being addressed. This is not to say that it would change the conclusion if properly analysed, but I think it is worth addressing.

    Sex – usually – emotionally affects a person in a way that other works do not. Further, sometimes people do not realise the extent to which they might be affected by sex, or might be convinced by people with a motive to see them in sex work that it “won’t be that bad”.
    This results in people in the coercion end of the Circumstance category may be danger of negative psychological repercussions due to the legality and availability of employment in the sex industry where otherwise they would not be.

    Having done precisely zero data mining on this (I would love to see some!) I’m unsure how accurate the above is – but it seems to me the long term effects on someone of choosing to do some sex work to pay the bills vs the effects of taking on a second job may not be in proportion to how someone in that position would view those options.

    This is (I presume with no data) an important distinction between sex work and other works that I don’t think should be overlooked.

    1. I disagree.

      I think sex sometimes affects a person emotionally, but that’s not always the case. Certainly the sex workers I have spoken to treat sex differently when it’s between them and a client, and them and someone who they’re romantically involved with. Although I don’t have any data, I would go further to say that there are some people who can completely divorce sex from emotion. I think sex work comes with a stigma that other labour does not, but marginalising sex work further is only going to increase that stigma.

      Secondly, I’m not sure that sex work is more emotional than other types of labour. I work with marginalised people on a daily basis, and I would say that personally, the mental/emotional toll on me is probably a lot higher than if I was engaging in consensual sex work – although I would probably be more prone to assault with the latter, so this is all hypothetical. Some sex workers have said really positive things about their job, especially with respect to the autonomy/self-employment, and that they find it more palatable than retail where you’re basically paid to be nice to everyone indiscriminately.

      So I guess my point is that I think it all comes down to whether the person is suited for the job, which is true of every job. The stigma of being a sex worker may make the job worse than any other job you might be unsuited to, but hey, if people in the Circumstance choose a job they hate there’s usually a reason for that. If you want to decrease the number of people in the sex work industry, then I like I said in the post, you should be increasing wages/conditions in other industries.

      1. I am a sex worker who has worked for 5+ years.

        I can tell you that work emotionally effects people in similar ways to what I think you are getting at, in literally all industries. As Connie said, it depends if a person is suited to a job.

        I suffered severe mental illness during and after (PTSD, depression, eating disorder) working in a call center. Dark rooms with no natural light or airflow in a tiny booth for hours upon hours, making phone call which 95% of the time resulted in heavy verbal abuse including death and rape threats, which company policy dictated we could not hang up on. This is pretty common for outbound sales call centers, and the abuse is worse if you don’t sound Australian. I felt used, exploited, had incredibly low self esteem and developed terrible social anxiety.

        Working in that job for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week took more of a toll on me than working in any faucet of the sex industry ever has- and where I was working wasn’t considered a bad job, or a bad workplace. It’s just not the industry for me. It effected me in a very personal way. The pressure and need for a thick skin is too much for me and most people I’ve ever met.

        One of the issues I’ve found with emotion and sex work is that it’s not the work that effects me: It’s society and it’s bullshit. The stigma placed on sex workers is the problem. I love my work and my clients. Marginalizing us will only make the stigma and subsequent harassment, discrimination and abuse we face worse, and for workers who are not as lucky as me that would (and does) have horrible consequences. Again, not because of work but because of how society treats workers.

  2. Your arguments are weak to non-existent on the topic of trafficking. Being forced to work in the construction industry against your will for extremely low wages is bad, but surely it is far worse to be forced into sex work against your will for extremely low wages. So it is quite reasonable to treat sex trafficking separately from people trafficking more generally.

    For people being trafficked, those sex workers remain controlled by their traffickers who will have no qualms in directing them to break criminal laws.
    This is an assertion but I don’t think it is particularly relevant, even if true. The relevant question is whether a change in the legal status of sex work would lead to a change in the rate of sex trafficking, i.e., whether it has consequences for people who might be trafficked in future. That is an empirical question that I don’t know the answer to, but I am aware of claims that trafficking to Sweden was reduced after the implementation of the Swedish model, and that trafficking has increased when countries have tried legalisation. (No sources: I’m not making a claim either way myself – but I find it plausible that the Swedish model has reduced trafficking there.)

    If legalisation of sex work does lead to an increase in sex trafficking, then it’s not clear whether the benefits you detail in the post outweigh the harm to those trafficked. (The parallel to construction work doesn’t apply: the benefits of buildings and houses are enormous.)

    1. I am not talking about being forced to work in the construction industry for “very low wages”. I am speaking about forced labour which exists outside of the sex industry, ie. people being beaten, assaulted, starved, their families being threatened if they do not work, not being paid wages at all. And I am not particularly comfortable in saying that one type of forced labour in the sex industry is different to another type of forced labour where you are basically still living in fear and being physically harmed – essentially the question of whether rape or assault is worse.

      This is an assertion but I don’t think it is particularly relevant, even if true. The relevant question is whether a change in the legal status of sex work would lead to a change in the rate of sex trafficking, i.e., whether it has consequences for people who might be trafficked in future.

      While reducing the number of people trafficked in the future is obviously relevant, I would not say it is the only relevant question. Laws must obviously be enforced to a certain degree to be effective. The assertion I made was about enforcement of those laws. One of the problems with catching trafficking is that the victims will very rarely go to the police, because they’re told the police will not believe them/lock them up/etc. My point is that legalisation of sex work would make those laws easier to enforce against traffickers. I think stating that increased enforcement of anti-trafficking laws would reduce trafficking is not particularly contentious.

      For the above reason, I don’t think legalisation of sex work would lead to increased trafficking, but I concede that I have no data. I guess I would reformulate my view depending on any data provided.

      1. FWIW, I had a bit of a poke around and as it looks like there’s no reliable data on the prevalence of human trafficking, which makes sense given that it’s illegal. The most reliable sounding source I found was this thing from the LSE (http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2012/12/Legalised-prostitution-increases-human-trafficking.aspx) which says that legalising prostitution leads to higher reported instances of trafficking.

        The researchers take this to mean that this probably implies a higher actual level of trafficking, which to me makes just as much sense as the counter claim Connie made above: legalising prostitution leads to more reporting of trafficking, since there is no penalty of reporting, and in countries where prostitution is illegal it’s simply reported less.

        They also hasten to add that, trafficking aside, making sex work fully legal means the conditions under which (consensual) sex work is conducted more favourable for the sex workers, which isn’t something that should be dismissed, especially given the uncertain nature of the trafficking data.

        Seems to be one of those things where actual data is so sketchy that both sides can claim the evidence supports their favoured policy outcomes. In these cases I tend to err more on the side of social libertarianism, but I too would reconsider my position given a reliable study.

        1. This would probably be the more articulate comment I would’ve made if I’d taken a bit more time to formulate my response, but you made it instead so all’s not lost.

        2. Yes, the consequences of legalisation on trafficking are theoretically ambiguous — you increase the incentive to traffic but make its reporting more likely. In the face of theoretical ambiguity and the absence of good empirical data, we can’t talk with much confidence about the overall effects of the legalisation/criminalisation/Swedish-model-ing of sex work. The best we can do is say that legalisation would clearly bring some benefits, and that it might lead to increased levels of sex trafficking and that it might not (and might even reduce it, though I don’t know of anyone holding the latter position). That uncertainty is large, and the consequences also large.

          It’s perfectly reasonable to go from there and have a personal opinion (if pressed, I’ll support the Swedish model, but it’s a very weakly held opinion). But it’s hard to go from “I don’t know what the overall consequences will be” to a strong opinion one way or the other, which is why I found the original post disappointing.

          (To be fair to Connie, the post was intended as a counter to lots and lots of anti-sex-work arguments, rather than a detailed treatment of the one argument I happen to think is the worthiest.)

    2. I keep returning to your comment because it rubs me the wrong way on a number of fronts, but here’s one reason why: your suggestion about construction work basically states that you would be okay with higher rates of forced labour and trafficking as long as the “benefits are enormous”. I don’t know whether you intended this meaning and I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt, but that certainly seems to be what you are saying upon my plain reading.

      1. My reading was: For the sake of argument take it as a given that legalisation of prostitution does increase trafficking. In that case you have to decide which competing effect you’re more comfortable with: better conditions for consensual sex workers or fewer trafficked people. You (or rather, the legislators) have to make this utilitarian decision because the universe is forcing you into it.

        In the case of construction though, it is already fully legal and, while that may mean more trafficked people being made to work as manual labourers, no one is suggesting that we criminalise construction.

        Though, I want to point out, I’m far from convinced of the premise.

      2. That comment was made in regard to the consequences of the legalisation or criminalisation of an industry. Assume for the sake of argument that legalisation does lead to an increase in trafficking in that industry, and that criminalisation reduces it. Now suppose that we’re in a country that bans construction, so we don’t have any shelter. It would be of great benefit to society if the government relaxed laws on construction, so that we could all have a roof over our heads. But in this new legalised regime, some dodgy construction companies will hold workers in slavery. I’m not “okay” with companies or people who do this, but the benefits of a legalised construction regime to broader society are enormous, so I support legalised construction.

        The benefits of a legalised sex work industry are far smaller than the benefits of construction. So even though I don’t want to criminalise construction (or payment for shelter), it doesn’t automatically follow that I support legalisation of sex work.

        I don’t mean the comment any more broadly than that. My thinking (in general) is infused with a good deal of utilitarianism, but here it’s restricted to weighing up the consequences of different legal regimes*. I am not saying that it’s OK to traffic someone and hold them in slavery as long as the slave provides something of great value to the rest of the society.

        *Just to head off a potential nitpick here: I know the consequences aren’t set in stone. You can legalise and then pour more resources into anti-trafficking, etc.

        1. My problem with your argument is that you are saying sex work needs to meet a certain utility criteria before its legalisation can outweigh a hypothetical increase in detriment to society. I think this is easier to argue with construction, but what if we use hospitality as an example?

          If legalisation of hospitality workers equalled an increase in trafficking, then shouldn’t we just get rid of hospitality altogether? I don’t really understand your utility criteria but people can cook their own meals at home or buy something microwaveable on the go. Or we can just get rid of table staff as trafficked workers are unlikely to be supervisors or managers.

          1. If legalisation of hospitality workers equalled an increase in trafficking, then shouldn’t we just get rid of hospitality altogether?

            It’d depend on the magnitudes (as it does with sex trafficking). The hospitality industry is much larger than the sex work industry, and the rate of trafficking appears much lower. e.g., Trafficking in Persons Report 2011: “Australia is primarily a destination country for women subjected to forced prostitution, and, to a lesser extent, women and men in forced labor and children in sex trafficking.” There’s also a dead-link-referenced claim on Wikipedia that about 80% of identified trafficking victims in Australia were in the sex work industry.

            I’d further argue that forced labour, even with abusive bosses, is less undesirable than forced sex work (I am comfortable saying that, even if you are not — I know which one I’d disprefer the most).

            So as with the construction industry, I don’t think there’s a parallel between hospitality and sex work.

            But if it were demonstrated otherwise — that a significant minority of workers in the hospitality industry were being kept in slavery and brutally treated, that hospitality profits were the dominant reason behind people trafficking — then that would certainly be a starting point for a discussion of what to do about the hospitality industry. (Since hospitality is so widely popular, there’d be no point calling for a blanket ban on it, even if someone convincingly modelled it to show criminalisation was the utilitarian optimal policy.)

          2. Given that your opinion is dependent on magnitude (as well as utility?), then I would ask where you would draw the line with it, and why you choose to draw the line with sex work? I would also add that sex work is very heavily regulated, so to make a comparison of numbers between sex work and any other industry, you would have to look at the amount of trafficking that occurs in legal brothels, because obviously the criminalisation of sex work is not going to deter those people who already operate outside the law (and are subject to criminal prosecution and imprisonment, I would add).

            I strongly disagree with you about one type of forced labour being worse than another, but I think that’s a personal call.

          3. Given that your opinion is dependent on magnitude (as well as utility?), then I would ask where you would draw the line with it, and why you choose to draw the line with sex work?

            I don’t know where I’d precisely draw the line. I’ve been sitting around for a couple of years hoping that an analyst somewhere writes a report and comes up with plausible numbers for everything, but it looks like I might have to just guess some myself.

            I’ve seen estimates that there are about 20,000 sex workers in Australia. I don’t know what their average salary is; if it’s $50k, then their salaries sum to $1bn. (I think I should be considering consumer surpluses here, for clients as well, but I don’t have any idea how to estimate these.)

            Wikipedia says, “Estimates given to a 2004 parliamentary inquiry into sexual servitude in Australia ranged from 300 to 1000 trafficked women annually.” How much of a bad is sexual servitude? I don’t know, but I could be persuaded that this harm is comparable to or much greater than the $1bn figure I gave earlier.

            So I’m not sure that the sex work industry as a whole is of net benefit (through no fault of those legitimately working in the industry, who are providing benefit). There aren’t many industries I’d put in that category — tobacco and pokies come to mind, and I’d be happy with a ban on the latter. That doesn’t have an immediate policy implication, since it may be that on net things would be worse under criminalisation or a Swedish model than under legalisation. But it does mean that I’m not a whole-hearted supporter of legalisation.

            you would have to look at the amount of trafficking that occurs in legal brothels, because obviously the criminalisation of sex work is not going to deter those people who already operate outside the law

            I disagree with this. When Sweden switched to their model, prices went down as demand dropped. Those operating outside the law have to compete with those operating within the law, so the potential revenue from illegal sex work would also decrease. This reduces the potential profits from sex trafficking (though the risk of getting caught probably also decreases), regardless of whether or not you’re trafficking them into a licensed brothel.

          4. I’m not sure how much overlap there is between clientele for legal sex work vs clientele that would hire trafficked sex workers. Certainly I can imagine many instances where a person who pays for sex work being very careful to only engage the services of people who were in the industry consensually (ie. would not want to rape people).

            I also think the discussion has come to a point where it has somewhat derailed from the original topic which was about legitimisation (and improving working conditions for sex workers), and arguments about trafficking formed only one aspect of that. If you would like to continue this conversation you should feel free to email me, but I don’t believe there’s much purpose in continuing this line of argument here. I am happy to leave it at the point where we disagree.

    3. Many labour jobs such as bricklaying are literally back-breaking work. Among all workers bricklayers have one of the highest risks of suffering from a manual handling injury. Any job where you are forced to work against your will, especially ones that cause you physical harm are bad. It’s not a contest.

      I’d like to point out that in Australia and in other countries/cities as is briefly discussed in following video- it is established fact that legitimate, legal sex workers are the leading source of information for law enforcement when it comes to sex slavery. Criminalizing sex work stops workers from going to police for help for themselves, or for others for fear of prosecution and persecution.


      Regarding the “success” of the Swedish model: They have curbed trafficking. They have also increased all forms of violence against workers and slaves by a huge degree, disease and unwanted pregnancy have skyrocketed, and they have effectively created a buyer’s market. Work has gone under ground, not dissapeared and it’s more dangerous than ever. Making trafficking less visible at the proven expense of workers isn’t ok. It is a terrible, failed model showing that people often care more about principals than actual people.

  3. As someone who was offered a job in the male sex industry, and considered it, this seems pretty much on the money. Clearly the industry has exploitative elements (as do other industries), and the circumstances behind people working within it are not always perfectly clear; but on the whole, the issues within the industry are caused by external factors, rather than elements that are somehow intrinsic to the business in question. If we are to consider the world in a sex-positive way, why should we heap shame upon people who have chosen to work in the sex industry.

    Also, “but that their wages as a waitress did pay them enough to live off” – I believe you’re missing a not.

  4. You are awesome!
    Is there some way to avoid the use of the word ‘prostitution’ with regard to sex workers in the choice and circumstance barrels? Or using inverted commas? (or something)
    “but that their wages as a waitress did pay them enough to live off” (not?)

    Many of the women who have been trafficked for sex work, according to the Scarlet Alliance, were recruited as sex workers but were not given enough information to make an informed decision (not told about length of day required, how much work would pay back the ‘debt’, restricted movement, etc).

    Scott – I disagree. I see two options – we can accept that people can be just as emotionally disengaged from sex work as with any other job, or we can accept that there are plenty of jobs that are highly likely to result in emotional engagement of some kind, and that is to be expected. Medical professionals, mental health professionals, social workers, counsellors, school teachers and so on are all likely to experience emotional engagement with their work/clients. Additionally, I don’t think the emotional engagement is really the point – this is still about choice.

    The Swedish model of sex work legislation really concerns me, and it is often proposed by feminists as the best way of ‘dealing with’ sex work (it was the model supported by the Greens in 2012). It involves criminalising the clients of sex workers, rather than the workers themselves, but ends up driving the industry underground in the same way as the more standard regulation and/or criminalisation models do.

    1. Yeah, I am well aware that “prostitution” is not a favoured term among sex workers. I may put a disclaimer about it, as this post was meant to be a bit of a 101 and I couldn’t think up any other terminology that wouldn’t be confusing. (And I will correct that typo, thanks.)

      Thanks for the comment. I am admittedly not as well-read on the subject as I should be, but I think the main arguments hold up because logic 🙂

  5. A lot does seem to hinge on the murky concept of informed consent, so will look forward to more on that, Connie. In general terms (not confined to this particular topic) I guess it does have a legal meaning, but I always wonder how informed is informed and did the person really understand the consequences and under what circumstances was the ‘consent’ given etc? It also seems to be a concept that applies on an individual basis; at a broader social level it still seems that an industry (again, not confined to this topic) can be exploitative and/or objectifying even if that is not the experience of particular individuals.

    1. I don’t plan on writing any posts about informed consent (not to say that I won’t write them, only that there’s nothing in the works). I’m not sure if informed consent around sex work is any more murky than informed consent of sex generally?

      1. I think I (mis)read your comment about informed consent lying outside the boundaries of this post with the emphasis on ‘this’. Apols. In response to your return question, I’m not sure, but it raises more questions. Do sex workers sign documents indicating their informed consent to do the work? If they do, then I see that as creating a distinction given that most consensual sex does not involve paperwork (unless you include marriage I guess). If papers are signed, then…what, I’m not sure, but assume it would create a different legal situation.

        1. Not as far as I’m aware, but even if sex workers DID sign forms about consenting to certain acts, they obviously still have the right to withdraw their consent at any time. If there was a contract signed and the sex worker broke that contract, then the other party would be entitled to any loss they suffered – ie. whatever they paid for the services initially.

  6. Decriminalisation is the way to go!

    Trafficking is a concern in most industries, but when it comes to sex trafficking, being in a state with decriminalisation, it is a hard thing to go unnoticed for long. Most of the clients sex workers see are decent people and if they went to a brothel and they thought that someone was there against their will, they would report it. Or if they couldnt report it themselves for whatever reason, they would tell a friend, a sex worker, anyone they could to stop it. Most clients would not like to see a sex worker if they are being forced. … its like, a human thing you know? They have a soul, a heart and do not want to rape anyone. Sex workers talk to other sex workers, they have quite of few networks where they can share intel. If any sex workers heard about people being forced into sex work, they would report it.

    In a decriminalised state, sex workers can advertise openly, they can have safe work areas, whether it be at home or in a brothel. If they have a problem client and need to call the police, they can do so without fear. They can screen clients well. Street workers can negotiate the “date” before getting into a car. Safety measures can be put into place.

    In a decriminalised state, Sexual Health Clinics are there for all to be tested. Clients, sex workers, free of charge. In NSW the sti/std/hiv rates of sex workers is no more & no less than the general population*. They are using condoms and both workers and clients are getting tested. (*as shown in the Report to the Minister of Health by The Kirby Institute UNSW)

    By having decriminalisation it isnt saying “YOU MUST SEE SEX WORKERS! YOU MUST PAY FOR SEX!” , its just giving people a choice, that if they want to, they can.

    The Swedish Model I believe is a step in the wrong direction. Who are we to say that it is a criminal act to pay for the services of a sex worker? Who are we to say it is wrong? Clients are not criminals. They are not all pedophiles. They are not all rapists. 99% are really nice people, who treat sex workers with respect. They are mostly really normal people. When did it become ok to say their choice is wrong?

    From what i have read about the Swedish Model, it is not working. As Aeryn said above(awesome post btw) , the number of assaults and attacks on sex workers has risen. The street walkers now have to get into cars asap before they can negotiate the “date” and that is not safe business practice. The nice clients are scared they will be arrested so they are no longer booking, so all that is left is the horrible not so nice clients.

    Then in turn, sex workers have had to lower prices,and with the lack of good clients and the lower rate of pay, there are many sex workers struggling financially.

    With it being illegal to be a client under the Swedish Model, how many clients would openly go to a Sexual Health clinic?

    After 12yrs working in the sex industry in NSW which has decriminalised sex work, I have only encountered one situation where I believe a sex trafficking ring was operating. It was not operating for long.

    I have worked for most of my career in brothels and i now work privately.

    I have only ever had to call the police once due to a not nice client. Most of my clients are lovely, they feel like friends, they respect me and i respect them. I feel safe knowing that i do have rights and that if i do need the police, they will be protect me.

    I educate my clients, i encourage safe sex, i promote the use of sexual health clinics.

    In my experience, sex trafficked victims do not make up the majority of the sex industry. They are a very very small group. They do exist and im not trying to play it down. It should not happen. I am sex worker and although i love my job, for someone who is being forced, i know it could be the most soul destroying thing that could ever happen to someone. Rape is rape and it is just not acceptable… but in saying that, sex work is sex work.. and they are two very different things.

    So after my blah, my point is, decrim is the way to go!
    I believe it helps both problems – eliminating trafficking AND good work conditions for the sex workers.
    You may not support sex work. You may think it is wrong.. and thats ok. No one is saying you have to become a sex worker or pay a sex worker, but sex work is here, most sex workers in Australia are happy in their profession and dont we (and our clients) have a right to make choices regarding what we do with our bodies? To work safely? To live the life that makes us happy?

  7. I live in a country where sex work has been legalized. Prostitutes even had a union for a while, though it failed because there weren’t enough women who were willing to sign up (and thus leave documentation of their profession). Despite the fact that prostitution is legal and carefully regulated, sex trafficking and other abuses are still a major problem. So here is my problem with campaigns that promote sex-work and whatnot. They emphasize that sex workers are worthy of respect which is a good thing. They also emphasize the sex workers that are ‘happy’ and consenting to be there, when the reality is that this is not the case for every sex worker. So then the message to the customers also becomes: “No need to question how I ended up here.”

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